Beneath These Lies (Page 18)

“So, is this one of your usual haunts?” I asked.

Hennessy smiled and leaned back in his chair, lifting his glass to his lips. He studied me for a moment before answering. “It’s close, the food’s damn good, and I like the atmosphere. Especially tonight.”

“Why tonight?” I smiled back, relaxing into my own chair.

“Isn’t it obvious, Valentina?”

My cheeks heated when I realized I’d walked right into that one. That’s when it occurred to me what was different about tonight. He wasn’t treating me like a victim. He wasn’t handling me with kid gloves the way he had during every interview and subsequent meeting. Hennessy was treating me like a woman he was interested in.

The realization shifted everything in my head, and the distraction I’d so desperately needed presented itself. In a moment, I went from sitting across the table from a cop to ordering a drink with a man. A man who I could acknowledge was incredibly attractive. Around six feet tall, solidly built, with muscles that you couldn’t get sitting behind a desk all day, and short, messy blondish-brown hair that used to be buzzed when I’d first met him. Before I would have said his most striking feature was his bright green eyes, but tonight I was shocked to see tattoos winding up his forearms and disappearing under his rolled-up shirtsleeves. How had I never noticed those before?

And when did I start seeing men as men again and not potential monsters?

I’d been hyperaware of Rix as well, and couldn’t help comparing the men in my mind. Rix’s skin was a few shades darker and also marked with ink, his eyes silver and intense, and then there was the fact that he’d given me his word that he’d get Trinity home safe.

Yanking myself away from the thoughts of Rix, I refocused on Hennessy across the table. He did make for a heck of a distraction. And I still have no idea what his first name is.

Grabbing my napkin and shaking it out, I waited for a break in our conversation about what type of oysters we planned to order.

“I feel stupid asking this question after so long, but what exactly is your first name? I can’t believe I don’t know it. I’m assuming it’s not Detective.”

Hennessy laughed, the sound deep and rich and . . . sexy, if I was being honest. When he finished, he smiled at me and answered, “Rhett. My mother has always been a junkie for the classics.”

Rhett Hennessy. Yep, it was a good name.

“Do you have siblings?”

Rhett nodded and the ease in his features vanished. “Two brothers, one older and one younger. I had another brother, the oldest of all of us, but he was killed in the line of duty last year. He was on the force too.”

“I’m so sorry. That’s terrible,” I said instantly, wishing I hadn’t unknowingly brought up such a painful subject.

“It happens. We’ve got a lot of cops in the family, and we all knew the risks when we signed on for the job. My dad’s retired from the NOPD. My mom had to deal with worrying about her husband on a daily basis for close to thirty years, and now she’s still worrying about her sons.”

I didn’t know if I should offer more condolences or let him steer the conversation away from their tragedy, but I opted to go with the flow.

“Wow. Family tradition, huh?”

“You could say that. I just never wanted to be anything else. I always knew I’d wear a badge.”

I picked up my water and sipped. “Both of your other brothers are cops too?”

He shook his head. “Just the older one, but he’s living the cushy life on the force in Colorado at Vail. My younger brother decided to make his own way. He was military, and now no one has a clue what he does. He’s down in Central America somewhere, and he checks in every couple of months to let us know he’s alive.”

“Wow. That’s gotta be . . . hard. Not knowing where he is and if he’s okay.”

Rhett shrugged and reached for his own drink. Whiskey, neat. “It is what it is. After he served in Afghanistan, he didn’t have any desire to come back to the States and re-assimilate into civilian life. He’s never gotten along with our dad, so the force wasn’t for him. I don’t ask questions when it comes to him because there are some things I don’t need to know.”

“I can’t imagine what it’s like to be so far away from family, though. My parents are less than a mile away, and while I acknowledge that sometimes it isn’t far enough, I do love having them close. I’m an only child, so I can’t imagine leaving New Orleans.”

Rhett’s smile eased again. “I’ve got no plans to leave this town either. It’s home.”

“So you like what you do?” I was always fascinated by the answer to that question.

He gave a short nod and turned the question around on me. “Do you? Running a gallery must be . . . interesting.”

I laughed. There were plenty of people who weren’t into art. I got it. I mean, I wasn’t into a lot of things.

“It is, actually. Luckily there are plenty of people here who love the new artists I’m always trying to find, and I’ve developed a reputation for the gallery as one that is constantly evolving and shifting with the cutting edge of the art world.”

“I can’t say I know a thing about that, but your eyes light up when you talk about it. Looks good on you.”

“Are you flirting with me, Rhett Hennessy?” My tone was also alarmingly flirtatious, and I wasn’t sure what in the world I was doing.

Rhett’s gaze turned serious. “I’ve wanted to flirt with you for years, Valentina, but you weren’t ready. I think you’re ready now.”